Libya Should Surrender Saif al-Islam Qaddafi to the ICC

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is disappointed in the Libyan transitional authorities’ decision not to surrender Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, Muammar Qaddafi’s son who is wanted for crimes against humanity.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Saif in June 2011 and has demanded Libya transfer him to the Court. Instead, Libya has insisted on trying Qaddafi locally for crimes including murder, rape, and corruption. PHR urges Libya to abide by its obligations under Security Council Resolution 1970 and transfer Qaddafi to the ICC.

Libya’s authorities have announced they are prepared to fairly try Qaddafi. Providing justice, however, requires deep institutional reforms that will take significant time and resources. At this time, Libya does not yet have the independent judicial system necessary for a fair trial.

Essential steps needed to reform Libya’s judiciary include the appointment or election of well-qualified and properly trained judges and the drafting of rules of evidence and procedures that protect the rights of the accused. Given the decades of mismanagement under the Qaddafi regime and its lack of competent judicial institutions, Saif and Abdullah al-Senussi, Libya’s former intelligence chief who is also wanted for crimes against humanity, should be tried at the ICC.

PHR strongly supports the principle of complementarity – the idea that the ICC is a court of last resort and will only have jurisdiction over a situation if the home country is unable or unwilling to prosecute individuals locally. In Libya, the ICC should try Libyans for which it has issued arrest warrants.

Once Libya’s national judicial institutions have been reformed and can properly adhere to international legal standards, they can complete the larger task of holding all other individuals accused of serious crimes accountable for their actions. 

The people of Libya have a strong interest in seeing justice served, but they also deserve institutional reforms that will provide a fair and transparent trial for Qaddafi and all others accused of human rights violations.

If Libya pushes forward with a national trial, it should guarantee that the trial upholds all internationally recognized legal standards, including that Qaddafi has the right to counsel, that the trial is not politicized, and that proceedings remain open to observers.

Libyan authorities should also protect the rights of all those detained in the wake of the recent conflict so that the country can take a measured, transparent, and fair approach to securing accountability for past crimes. The international community should provide appropriate training and resources to assist Libya in this important effort.  

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) investigated war crimes in Misrata, a town targeted by Qaddafi’s forces during his brutal crackdown on opposition fighters. PHR later conducted a comprehensive forensic evaluation of a massacre site in Tripoli, during which PHR formulated several necessary steps for Libya’s authorities to take in order to preserve forensic evidence for future trials.

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